Merlin, Lucas and Ben had positioned themselves in front of a lot of screens, accompanied by lots of coffee, scanning the CCTV footage to search for any sign of Marlin on it. Lucas had reasoned he might have been close to the explosion and therefore it was necessary to check the security cameras that were hanging near the attack sites. That had sounded like a brilliant plan, until Merlin realised just how many cameras there were. This is hopeless.
The girl he had saved was curled up on a nearby swivel chair, thumb in her mouth, sleeping. Merlin was happy to take the risk of Harry's fury, but he just couldn't let that kid go, not when she had been making such a scene when Connie had only mentioned it.
'You can't let her stay here, Merlin,' Lucas had told him, not unfriendly. 'This is no place for a child.'
Merlin had nodded. 'I know. But until we know where she does belong, where else is she going to go?'
He felt responsible for the child now. They had found out her name was Lia Harris, but not much else. Connie had been searching for her family, but nothing had come up yet. The girl had been tired and panicked and had refused to be taken from Merlin's side ever since he had picked her up from the street. It was kind of ironic, he guessed, since he had failed to see the mother as well as the daughter and as a result of that, Lia's mother was no more.
'He's got to be somewhere,' he muttered under his breath.
'Logic would dictate so,' Lucas agreed. 'But then, logic would also dictate that you can't actually be here.'
At that moment Lucas's mobile started to produce noise. The dark-haired spook snatched the device from the desk and answered it. The next moment his eyes widened. 'Marlin.' The tone in his voice suggested that he would love to have the other man for lunch. 'All right.' He ended the call.
'What?' Merlin spluttered. 'He called?' Was that man suicidal?
'He wants to talk to me,' the senior officer announced.
'What are you going to do?' Ben asked.
Lucas's smile was almost creepy. 'Talk to him. Coming, Merlin?'
Merlin frowned. 'Shouldn't we be asking Harry's permission or something?' he wondered, suddenly feeling a bit nervous. Marlin had been trying to murder dozens of people only hours ago and Merlin wasn't that sure that talking to him was the best course of action, at all.
'Harry is in a meeting,' Lucas pointed out. 'We can handle this.' His mouth may be smiling, but his eyes most definitely were not. There was a cold in them, a freezing rage that made Merlin glad they were on the same side.
'You're not afraid he will try and kill us?' he asked for good measure. Not that he thought there was much of a risk. Merlin was by now well aware that his magic could keep both of them safe easily enough. In truth, he wondered if it shouldn't be Marlin he should be worrying about, especially as he saw Lucas take a gun with him.
'Oh, I don't think so,' the spook said, not sounding concerned in the least. 'He has nothing to gain from killing us. He knows that after what he has done, there'll be nowhere left for him to run. No, my guess is that he will try to make a deal with us.'
Even though he could already guess the answer, he still asked: 'And are you going to let him?'
They had arrived in the car park by now. Lucas unlocked the car, a big black one, as he threw Merlin a disbelieving look. 'What did you think?' he snorted.
Merlin thought that Marlin might be in some amount of danger. Lucas kept his eyes on the road as they drove down to the meeting place, but his hands held the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles turned white. Underneath the calm and even sarcastic spook was a whole lot of rage boiling and the warlock couldn't find it in himself to blame him for that. He only had to close his eyes to see that day's events all playing out before him again, to be dragged back to that square after the bomb had gone off. Every detail was burned in his memory; the unnatural position of the CO19 officer, Lia's dead mother, the smell that had made him want to throw up where he stood. The ringing in his ears was dying away. At least he could ignore it now.
And Marlin had done this. For one reason or another, he had made this happen. And that still didn't make any sense at all. Ros had told him that Marlin had been working with them for years, helping MI-5 to prevent events like this from happening. For him to be the mastermind behind such an attack himself was out of character. Even Merlin, who hadn't known the Pakistani for long, could tell that.
And he could also tell that Lucas didn't care. He was just angry, although he knew how to disguise it well. It were the little things that gave it away; the icy cold in his eyes, his hands shoved deep inside the pockets of his jackets and the too relaxed posture as he leaned against the column at the meeting place.
This place was cold and stormy now, much like it had been the first time he had been here, waiting for the same man to make an appearance. It felt strange to remember that meeting was only a day ago. To Merlin it felt like it was another lifetime. So much had happened since then and he had seen more than he ever wanted to see.
Merlin heard the Pakistani before he saw him and he turned around to meet the other man's eyes. The warlock was shocked to find that they were remarkably empty, the man's expression undecided. He was still in suit and tie and as composed as the first time.
'You came alone?' he asked them. 'Or is there a sniper with a beat on me right now?' He didn't even care anymore, Merlin realised. He talked as if he were already dead. And the lifelessness in his eyes only confirmed that theory. What happened to you to make you like this?
'We came alone,' Lucas replied. He had himself firmly under control again. Not an ounce of anger seeped through in his voice.
'Because you know that one way or another I'm a dead man.' Marlin sounded resigned, Merlin decided. He had accepted that he didn't have long to live anymore.
'Because I knew that if you arranged to meet and you kept your appointment, you had no intention of running anywhere,' Lucas corrected. He still hadn't really looked at the Pakistani, but the tension was there. Merlin could feel it.
'Where's Nadif?' Marlin demanded.
This was what made Lucas turn around in the end, facing the other man with that same creepy smile Merlin had seen before, the one that made even him want to run for cover without a moment's hesitation. He could only imagine the effects of it on Marlin, who by now definitely was branded an enemy. 'Oh, he's in a very bad and dark place of course. It was very clever of you, to make us think he was the Mr Big.' Even though this mistake had cost two people their lives, there was some admiration to be heard as well. Both of them were spies and one of them had outwitted the other at the game. Being one himself, Merlin could understand it. But both Lucas and Merlin were more furious than anything else, although there was a feeling, a small voice in the back of his head that told him that there was more to this, that they were still overlooking something, something that was somehow important for them, if only to make them understand today's catastrophe.
Marlin snorted. 'Do you think I am the Mr Big?' He shook his head. 'It's just one doll, inside another, inside another.'
Merlin's mind was working at top speed. Three dolls, Marlin had said, and therefore three layers, if he had been listening right. Nadif would have been the first one, the outer doll, and then came Marlin, and then someone who they had not yet heard about.
Lucas didn't care. 'Well, you're big enough for now,' he told the Pakistani, clearly with every intent to get that last name out of him as soon as he got him into an interrogation room. 'I can't let you go.'
'I am no longer a part of any of this.' Meaning: I have nothing to tell you anymore. And Merlin didn't believe that for a second. 'I didn't join them because I believe in what they're doing.' In fact he looked downright disgusted now, which was the only emotion that he had shown since the start of the meeting.
And Merlin just asked the question that he had been dying to ask ever since he had found out that it had been Marlin that had been behind the attack. 'Then why?' he demanded. 'Why did you do it?'
Those cold, no, dead eyes now settled on him. 'My family. They got to my family. I would do anything to protect my family from harm.' And he had certainly done just that. He had even gone as far as to blow up other people to protect them.
And in that moment it came all together, everything, all of it. You can only trust your family. That was what he had said at that first meeting. He had given them the biggest hint he could have possibly given them and they had completely overlooked it, until now. All that nonsense about not putting faith in friends, not trusting anyone, that had not been nonsense at all. As far as he could he had really given them a warning. It was them that had failed to see it for what it was.
But it still didn't make sense. Who had gotten to his family? Al-Qaeda? He had voiced that question before he had even given himself permission to do so.
Marlin laughed humourlessly. 'Is that what you think?' he asked. 'That Al-Qaeda is behind this?'
Lucas shook his head, understanding in his eyes as well. 'That's too subtle for them,' he agreed. 'Question remains, who made you do this?' The anger was still there, but it was better controlled now, banished temporarily by the need to find out who really was behind this.
'You would not believe me.' Marlin shook his head. 'And I can't risk my family's lives for this.' He opened his jacket to reveal the gun he had slipped into the waistband of his pants, slipping his fingers around it, pulling it free. 'This is the only way I can protect them now.' What on earth was he going to do? 'Goodbye, my friends.'
And then Merlin understood. Marlin brought the gun to his head. Lucas started forward, but the warlock knew that he would be too late, no matter what he did. Marlin had kept his distance from them and now he was too far away to do anything to save the Pakistani.
Lucas was decidedly too far away, but Merlin was not. Time slowed, and Merlin jumped forward, yanking Marlin's arm in the other direction. He could hear the bang of the explosion as the gun went off and he could feel the bullet rushing past only inches from his head.
And then time went back to his usual pace and the almost namesakes crashed to the ground together. Marlin landed on his back, hurting his head as it collided with the stone floor. Merlin landed on the Pakistani's stomach, his hands still gripping the spy's wrists, keeping the gun away from Marlin's head. They needed that information and they wouldn't get it from a dead informant, that was for sure.
But Marlin had no intention of doing such a stupid thing again. He stared at Merlin, his jaw dropped and Merlin realised just a second too late that his eyes must have flashed gold, as they always did when he was using magic. That was twice today that he had revealed his secret. Keep this up and the entire population of London would know by the end of the week.
'Who are you?' Marlin eyed him with suspicion and fear.
Well, there was no point in hiding anymore. His secret was out, again. 'I'm Merlin,' he said, trying to sound as low and threatening as he could. 'Now tell me: who are they?'
'The American,' the Pakistani admitted. 'Someone called Hogan.'
Lucas cursed, loudly. The name meant clearly more to him than it did to Merlin.
But there was more, there had to be. Merlin had learned something about the Americans, enough to know that they could indeed be quite frightening, although he couldn't understand for the life of him why they would support a terrorist attack. There had to be something, or someone, else.
'Who else?' he demanded.
'A woman,' Marlin replied hastily. 'I don't know her name!'
A cold shiver had gone down Merlin's spine. He had this funny feeling that this was boding ill for all of them. 'Describe her to me.'
Marlin was still too impressed by Merlin's magic to even think about resisting. 'Green eyes, pale skin, black hair. She…' Here he hesitated. 'She could do what you did as well.'
Merlin let go off the man as if he had physically hit him. There was only one person who would fit that description. 'Morgana,' he hissed through clenched teeth.
Ros had frozen into her chair the moment Arthur had given them all his real name, but that was nothing compared to Dolby and Blake. Ros actually had the great satisfaction of seeing Dolby being struck speechless and Blake looking like he was choking, which would have been amusing, had the situation not been so serious. And now Arthur had also blown Merlin's cover wide open. Had that man not yet learned the meaning of secrecy at all?
But whatever it was that Merlin was telling him, it had temporarily made him unable to speak. In fact, all the blood seemed to have drained from his face. Ros used that opportunity to literally grab him by the collar and drag him to the door before he could do any more damage.
'Outside you!' she hissed. It would be up to Harry to contain the problem. He clearly couldn't say that Arthur wasn't in his right mind, although Ros wasn't actually so sure about that one. The king hadn't talked like a lunatic, but he sure as hell was behaving like one right now.
She slammed the door shut behind him. 'What is the bloody matter with you?' she demanded, grabbing the phone, barking an 'I'll call you back asap' into it and then turning it off. She could all too easily picture Merlin's confused face at that, but she couldn't care less. 'Do you have any idea what the word secret even means?'
The king glared back at her, his arms folded across his chest, completely unyielding. 'He was assaulting you,' he informed her. 'And it was my duty to stand up for you.'
God save me from the knights in shining armour. 'That was not your duty,' she told him. 'It is not in the job description. You are not in Camelot anymore. Women here can hold their own.' A small part of her was touched. She couldn't remember the last time someone had done that for her. Oh, hang a second, actually she could. Lucas had done the same thing in the village near the forest where they had found Arthur and Merlin. Another one with shining armour issues.
'It was necessary,' Arthur simply stated. Clearly he believed that he had done the right thing.
That stupid touched part of her made her next words a little less harsh that she had actually intended them. 'No, you thought it was necessary,' she corrected him. 'But what you did is that you completely blew both Merlin and your covers. The point of changing your sodding identities was that no one would find out about you. Do you have any idea how much damage you have just caused? Legendary kings and wizards aren't supposed to turn up in modern day London. You are supposed to be dead. How on earth do you think we can even begin to explain your presence here?'
That seemed to wake him up. 'I hadn't thought about that.'
So I noticed. 'Well, try to contain your inner gentleman in future, will you?' The remark wasn't quite as snappy as she meant it to be. 'Harry may just be able to minimalize the damage this time, but we can't have you blow your covers anywhere else, not again.'
Arthur's blue eyes suddenly got a panicked, but had also determined expression in them. 'We may not have to worry about covers for much longer.' Was it just her imagination or was he actually scared?
Ros suddenly remembered that Arthur had gone awfully quiet after something Merlin had told him. 'What are you talking about?'
'Morgana is here.'
It were only three words, but they made the world turn upside down in a matter of seconds. Ros's first instinct was to start complaining about yet another legendary figure let loose on the streets of London. As if two of them weren't enough! It was only then that the name truly registered in her mind: Morgana, also known as Morgan Le Fay. And if legend actually got one thing right (she was at a point that she was seriously starting to doubt just that) that was a sworn enemy of Camelot. So what the hell is she doing here? Wasn't that portal supposed to be a secret portal?
'Give me your phone,' she demanded, slipping into commander mode. No matter what else this was, it was first and foremost a crisis and it would be Ros's duty to deal with that before anything else. She was not yet done scolding the king for his foolish behaviour, but it would have to wait.
'Arthur?' Merlin's voice asked after the first time the phone had rang. He must have been close to it.
'No, it's Ros,' she announced. 'What on earth is going on there? I thought you were trying to locate Marlin?'
'We were,' the warlock confirmed. 'But he called Lucas and arranged a meet. He told us that "they" got to his family.'
'Oh, please, don't tell me you actually believed that?' Merlin was a good spy, she would not deny that, but he certainly was too naïve for his own good from time to time.
Merlin actually ignored the tone. 'It wasn't Al-Qaeda. He tried to commit suicide because he was afraid for his family, Ros. Lucas and I, we stopped him from doing that and I may have used magic to achieve it.'
And here was another one who needed a lesson in the meaning of secrecy. 'What were you thinking?' she exploded.
'Well, that isn't the point,' the warlock said impatiently. 'He told me that his family had been captured by two people, one of them a woman. He didn't know her name, but he described her to me and he mentioned that she could do what I did as well.'
'Please don't tell me we've got another legendary figure walking around here?' That question was of course rhetorical. Ros had long since stopped thinking of anything as impossible, roughly around the time that she discovered that she had arrested Arthur Pendragon and Merlin. 'You mentioned two people. Who is the other?' Do I even want to know?
Merlin seemed to hesitate. 'Marlin said it was an American man,' he replied after a long pause. 'Lucas seemed to know about him…'
Spit it out already, will you? 'The name?' she asked sharply.
'He only had a surname. Someone called Hogan, he said.'
Had she thought the world had already turned upside down? How wrong had she been. A cold shiver went down her spine as she heard Merlin mention that name, completely unaware of the impact it made on the Section Chief. 'Bob bloody Hogan,' she hissed through clenched teeth. 'All right, get yourselves back to the Grid as soon as you can and put Marlin in an interrogation room. We'll talk to him later. Tell Lucas to red-flash the entire team. Got that?'
Merlin obviously didn't think it wise to argue now. 'Got it.'
Ros hung up on him without as much as a greeting. Now wasn't the time for pleasantries. Morgana out on the streets was unfortunate, possibly even dangerous, but they could come up with an explanation for that. She could just have discovered the portal by accident. The fact that she was apparently working together with a man who should have been in a prison in the United States however changed everything. Because this should not be possible. The CIA had taken Hogan from their reach, but since his actions had seriously damaged the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, Ros had assumed he would have disappeared behind bars for the rest of his life. Clearly he had not, or else he would not be here wreaking havoc, working together with Al-Qaeda and the most feared witch in the history of mankind of all things.
Unfortunately, the rest of the story, the part that explained how he had gotten Marlin and Al-Qaeda involved in his little revenge scheme, because Ros was sure that was what it was, made perfect sense. Marlin had given information to more services than just MI-5, the CIA among them. For the ex-CIA man it would have been a piece of cake to get into contact with his old asset and pull off this operation.
So far she could get it, but how had Morgana gotten involved? She could not even begin to understand how that was even possible, but she vowed that she would make it her personal responsibility to find out, as well as take down Bob Hogan for once and for all.
'Wait here,' she ordered Arthur.
She marched back to the office and walked in without knocking. Harry was still trying to convince Blake and Dolby that this was not what it seemed and both men still seemed to be in a shock. Good thing too. At least it kept them silent for a while.
Ros ignored them, addressing Harry directly. 'We've got to go,' she said bluntly.
Harry glared at her for interrupting. 'What do you think you're doing?'
'We've got a big problem,' she told him. And that is most likely the understatement of the century.